When Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, a divorced single mother, ran for president of Iceland in 1980, women made up only 5% of parliamentarians in the Nordic country.
“I never thought I would win,” she says, sitting in the modernist architectural splendor of the University of Iceland multicultural institute that bears her name in Reykjavik. “I just wanted to prove a woman could run.”
But in August of that year, she became the first female elected head of state anywhere in the world. Reflecting on the impact of her 16-year tenure, she has no time for false modesty.
“If I may say so, because I hear it all the time, it changed everything,” says the 87-year-old. “Women thought, if she can, I can. In my advanced age, women still thank me for being a role model.”
In this small nation, there is a near-unquestioned conviction based on decades of evidence that electing women to positions of power benefits women and families. And at a time when American women, galvanized by the election of Donald Trump, are showing unprecedented interest in entering the political arena themselves, Iceland can provide both a roadmap and a promise for what’s possible.
Iceland’s lesson for America is clear: when women win elections, everyone wins.
“There is absolutely no doubt that there is an equivalency between more gender-balanced political representation and better policies for women,” says Brynhildur Heiðar, executive manager of the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association. “Parental leave, daycare, the gender pay gap – none of these were seen as major issues before women ran for parliament.” Read more